Abdominal Pain

Pain in the stomach is a normal occurrence, an uncomfortable experience that almost everyone goes through from time-to-time. But for some people this pain can become so disruptive, due to its frequency and/or severity, that it can seriously lower their quality of life. For those unfortunate enough to go through this, finding out the cause and receiving treatment for their pain is a necessity.

Types of abdominal pain

There are two different types of pain:

  • acute
  • chronic

Acute pain is characteristically sudden and severe, and an attack often drives patients immediately to seek emergency aid where many may require urgent surgical treatment.

Chronic pain can be described as being less severe, longer lasting and perhaps intermittent.

It is important to note, however, that less severe pain does not necessarily equate to a less serious disease or condition

Causes of acute abdominal pain

Some causes of acute abdominal pain may include:

  • acute pancreatitis – a sudden severe inflammation of the pancreas
  • appendicitis – an inflammation of the appendix
  • cholecystitis – an inflammation of the gall bladder
  • gallstones and bile duct stones – stones which can clog the biliary tree, causing inflammation and serious conditions such as pancreatitis
  • perforated gastric or duodenal ulcer – an ulcer that creates an opening in the intestinal wall
  • ruptured aortic aneurysm – a weak area in the wall of the vessel that supplies blood to the abdominal organs
  • sudden loss of blood supply
  • sudden obstruction to the small intestine or colon

Women may also present acutely with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy or ovarian cysts.

Causes of chronic abdominal pain

Other abdominal conditions can cause pains that are usually less severe, and may come and go. They can include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Pain is an important symptom of abdominal disease. Its position and characteristics give important clues to the likely causes. The types of pains previously described tend to have characteristic positions which can help point to their origin.By far the most common cause of abdominal pain in the general population is irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

Location of abdominal pain

In general, pains that are located further from the center of the abdomen often indicate a more serious problem than those near the center ... but not always. And chronic abdominal pains that are fixed in position —usually continuous and progressive— also often signify a more serious, underlying disease. Chronic pains that move around and last for only a few minutes, however bothersome, are less likely to be as serious.

Tests for abdominal pain

A physician may decide to perform one or more tests on a patient to help determine the cause of his/her pain. These tests may include:

  • urinary tests – determines whether the patient may have diabetes, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and other related conditions
  • x-rays – can determine if there is a blockage
  • endoscopy – can reveal a number of causes for pain
  • ultrasound – can detect the presence of kidney stones and gallstones
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Treatment for abdominal pain depends on finding the cause. Some questions patients needs to ask themselves before talking to their doctor are:

  • Is the pain in the right, left, or center of the abdomen?
  • Is the pain in the top, bottom, or middle of the abdomen?
  • Is the pain sudden, and severe (acute)?
  • Is the pain less severe, yet occurs more frequently (chronic)?
  • Does the pain remain in one place, or does it move around?
  • Does the pain occur mainly after eating?
  • Are you pregnant?

Treatment of abdominal pain

Physicians will decide on a course of action based on what tests reveal. Some options include:

  • antacids
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • antibiotics
  • surgical procedures

Seek immediate medical care for abdominal pain if the person:

  • has bloody bowel movements
  • throws up vomit that appears to have blood in it
  • has trouble breathing
  • experiences abdominal pain during pregnancy

It is important to remember that if pain persists over an extended period, despite how insignificant it may feel, go see your physician. That dull pain may be an early warning signal of something more serious.